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Reactive oxygen species trigger the fast action of glufosinate

  • Hudson K. Takano
  • Roland Beffa
  • Christopher Preston
  • Philip Westra
  • Franck E. DayanEmail author
Original Article


Main conclusion

Glufosinate is primarily toxic to plants due to a massive light-dependent generation of reactive oxygen species rather than ammonia accumulation or carbon assimilation inhibition.

Glutamine synthetase (GS) plays a key role in plant nitrogen metabolism and photorespiration. Glufosinate (C5H12NO4P) targets GS and causes catastrophic consequences leading to rapid plant cell death, and the causes for phytoxicity have been attributed to ammonia accumulation and carbon assimilation restriction. This study aimed to examine the biochemical and physiological consequences of GS inhibition to identify the actual cause for rapid phytotoxicity. Monocotyledonous and dicotyledonous species with different forms of carbon assimilation (C3 versus C4) were selected as model plants. Glufosinate sensitivity was proportional to the uptake of herbicide between species. Herbicide uptake also correlated with the level of GS inhibition and ammonia accumulation in planta even with all species having the same levels of enzyme sensitivity in vitro. Depletion of both glutamine and glutamate occurred in glufosinate-treated leaves; however, amino acid starvation would be expected to cause a slow plant response. Ammonia accumulation in response to GS inhibition, often reported as the driver of glufosinate phytotoxicity, occurred in all species, but did not correlate with either reductions in carbon assimilation or cell death. This is supported by the fact that plants can accumulate high levels of ammonia but show low inhibition of carbon assimilation and absence of phytotoxicity. Glufosinate-treated plants showed a massive light-dependent generation of reactive oxygen species, followed by malondialdehyde accumulation. Consequently, we propose that glufosinate is toxic to plants not because of ammonia accumulation nor carbon assimilation inhibition, but the production of reactive oxygen species driving the catastrophic lipid peroxidation of the cell membranes and rapid cell death.


Glutamine synthetase Phosphinothricin Ammonia accumulation Photosynthesis Light dependent Lipid peroxidation 



We thank Bayer CropScience for funding this research.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

We declare no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

425_2019_3124_MOESM1_ESM.docx (16 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 16 kb)
425_2019_3124_MOESM2_ESM.eps (132 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (EPS 132 kb) Supplementary Fig. S1. Total ion chromatogram from the LC–MS/MS analysis for glufosinate-treated (A) and glufosinate-untreated (B) palmer amaranth plants
425_2019_3124_MOESM3_ESM.eps (122 kb)
Supplementary material 3 (EPS 121 kb)
425_2019_3124_MOESM4_ESM.eps (123 kb)
Supplementary material 4 (EPS 123 kb) Supplementary Fig. S2. Ammonia accumulation overtime after glufosinate application in horseweed, palmer amaranth, kochia, ryegrass and johnsongrass
425_2019_3124_MOESM5_ESM.eps (92 kb)
Supplementary material 5 (EPS 92 kb) Supplementary Fig. S3. Visual injury and ammonia accumulation in glufosinate-treated plants growing in water or 10 mM glutamine at 8 HAT


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest ManagementColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  2. 2.Weed Resistance Research Centre, Bayer AG, Industriepark HoechstFrankfurtGermany
  3. 3.School of Agriculture, Food and WineUniversity of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia

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